Trying to get back into artist mode

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For a while, I lose my balance. There is too much nesting & not enough artist-ing. My life often feels like it is about avoiding extremes. I am a libra in the truest sense – the symbol: the scales, always seeking a happy medium. I try to get everyday things done while also trying to make something that will last. I try to avoid the extremes of depression and mania. I try to keep my blood sugar from being too high or too low.

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I am diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease & now my thyroid becomes another thing that needs to be monitored. It’s not a bad blow – I figure that compared to the seemingly endless attention that my type 1 diabetes requires, even with the new insulin pump & CGM, taking a pill once a day & letting my doctor add another test to my lab work every three months is small potatos. My mother also has Hashimoto’s. There are many autoimmune disorders that can be co-morbid with type 1 diabetes & I’d rather have Hashimoto’s like my mother than Celiac like my grandmother.

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I realize I am doing too much nester work and not enough artist work so I come up with a sort-of routine. Put the clothes in the laundry – if it gets full, run it. Pick things up off the floor and run my little robot vacuum. Throw any forgotten garbage away – if the bin is full then take the bag outside. Clean up the kitchen, wipe down the counters, sweep the laundry room & kitchen floors with the broom. Wash the bedding as needed. Water some of the indoor plants (there are too many to reasonably water all of them in one go) & the outdoor plants if it’s been dry weather recently. This is my little routine. I usually get it done early in the day, then I have plenty of day left to spend in my artist studio where I am either absorbed in a book, trying to create something or planning the creation of something. My little dog, Lena, is always in her bed in my studio when I’m in here. When I’m elsewhere in the house, she’s there. She’s my little shadow. I project onto her. Edward has learned that when I ask him if he thinks Lena looks anxious it means my anxiety is beginning but I am not aware of it yet.

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I have to go to the ER twice in two weeks. Infection – angry, painful, red, spreading. I finally find a doctor who specializes in breasts & she is the coolest. She tries to teach Edward how to read a breast sonogram while she does mine because she knows he is in medical school. Edward is 6’4″ tall & she is about his height. I joke with her & adore her because she is so friendly. I didn’t used to understand why most doctors tended to be so cold to their patients most of the time but after hearing about Edward’s interactions with patients during his third year rotations, I have a better idea. They just get burnt out on people being stupid & causing themselves health trouble with bad decision making, stubbornness and/or stupidity. I have a new second-favorite doctor. No one is going to top my psychiatrist. No one at the ER can tell me why I’ve gotten mastitis twice in two weeks despite antibiotics. It’s strange for a non-breastfeeding woman to develop this infection in the first place. I make a few jokes about how my maternal insects for my dogs have apparently gotten out of control. The cool doctor I see tells me she doesn’t have an answer either, sometimes this just happens. I can accept that answer.

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My therapist and I set a goal for myself for the time between one weekly appointment & the next: I am to drive around Montgomery alone in the car, no Lena with me, and see how I do. My anxiety/panic disorder makes agoraphobia crop up sometimes and I am surprised when I realize I haven’t left the house without Edward, Lena or a friend in almost two months. Something about being out in the world alone feels wrong – unsafe, frightening, my body telling me to flee back to the place it assumes is safest, “go home, child.” I ace my homework. I get extra credit. Three times during the week I drive somewhere entirely on my own BUT I even go into stores by myself. I manage to go into WALMART alone, which is a huge challenge for me even when my anxiety is at a lower hum instead of the raging storm it’s been. The storm is starting to subside & it’s wonderful, liberating, a massive sigh of relief.

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A new friend turns out to be crazier than I thought and rips me apart for saying her boyfriend “needs to get his shit together” despite the fact that she complains about him not respecting her almost constantly to me. She sends me such a long tirade via text message about how awful I am that it takes me 5 minutes to read. Good riddance, I suppose. I keep in mind that’s she’s only 22, she’s mentally ill, most of her ideas about the world are totally batshit (she thought the government-illuminati were stealing money from her that she could get back) & she’s unmedicated. This is what I tell myself so I am not as sad about losing the only friend I’ve really made in my new city since moving here in May.

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I take to playing a 10 hour long soundtrack of thunderstorms when I am anxious, home alone or both. The thunder & rain sounds soothe me. I don’t know why exactly. They just make home feel cozier – call me a little bit hygge.

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Again I have the desire to branch out into new mediums of art. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything besides take photographs or write. I turned the storage room into a universe for a ritual but other than that I’ve been pretty creatively dry. I want to start doing collages again. I want to learn to paint (even if I turn out not to have any talent for it) & to draw. One night I buy watercolor pencils for Edward & I to play with on a free evening. I buy a little urquoise sketchbook for $5 so I can keep my doodles in one place. I hope I’ll see some progress as the pages become filled front-to-back. I want to start knitting again – you’d be surprised how much knitting you can get done during a phone call or while listening to a good mystery novel. I don’t know how to knit anything fancier than a tiny blanket or a scarf, and even then only using one stitch, but it’s relaxing.

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Thanks to my new medication, it’s been over 3 weeks since I’ve had a panic attack. Right now is a happy time & I’m doing my best to enjoy it. My painting supplies are supposed to arrive today (including 12 little canvases) so I can begin that. On Wednesday I get to go into Birmingham with Edward (he has to do a presentation) & see Mackenzie & I am very excited about that – it’s been way to long. Edward will mostly be studying for his shelf exam when he’s home until it’s over on Friday so I’m especially grateful for these creativity I’ve been feeling. I hope it lasts for a while.

Magpie Anxiety

“There is a time for growing, there is a time for hibernating, there is a time for basking in the sun. Right now, this is a time for making good soil. Allow the things that need to break down to break down. Shake off the dead leaves. Weather the hard knocks that are shaping you. Breathe into the new spaces even though the air is sharp and stings sometimes. It won’t always be like this but right now, it needs to be. I have faith that I am where I need to be. Always on the path, always pulled in the right direction.” Aislin Fall 

I’m a magpie lately, collecting things I hope will help me cope with my anxiety – books, words, inspiration, knit stitches across my bamboo needles, guppies, fresh flowers in the vase once a week, chores, errands… I saw this quote on Instagram the other day & it resonated with me though, so I am sharing it here.

Rabbit Hearted Girl

First came the depression when I was a child. Then came the bipolar diagnosis when I was in my early twenties. Then came the borderline diagnosis a few years after that. Now, lately anyway, my main problem is anxiety. Anxiety is newer to me than depression or mania are. I don’t think I had much of it back before Edward & I got together because my life was such a wreck that I had very little to lose. Not much to lose kind of means you have no reason to be anxious but there are lots of reasons to be depressed. That’s how it has worked for me anyway. I still haven’t worked out how to cope with the anxiety in the optimal way. Not that I’ve gotten highly skilled at managing depressive episodes when they happen either yet. But still.

I’ve been trying what feels like everything to get my anxiety under control but I’ve found little relief. My psychiatrist & I have tried a handful of new medications, one after another, adding them to my current cocktail of meds. But all of them have had side effects I couldn’t handle or did nothing at all.

So, I figured, maybe medication wasn’t the answer this time. I started exercising almost everyday. I stayed hydrated. I started therapy again. I stretched. I got outside. I learned to breath deeply, horizontally, into my diaphragm. I talked to myself – saying reassuring things out loud when no one else was around to hear except the dogs.

It’s not making much difference most of the time. I’m frustrated with being anxious when there is no reason to be, exhausted from it, body always tense as if I’m in flight or fight mode, but I’ll keep trying. Anyone have any other ideas? I know I should give meditation more of a shot than I have. 

I’ve done housework & artist work today. I’ve talked to people on the phone. I still have some housework to finish but I think I am going to go to the store, buy some yarn & knitting needles then spend the rest of the afternoon trying to make a ridiculously oversized scarf in August in Alabama while finishing up an audiobook I’ve been working on for way too long. Maybe knitting will be the answer? You never know.

When I started writing this post, the anxiety was intense. Now, I’m feeling, though still a bit anxious, something close to “myself” again. Now, in this moment, when I’ve just gotten off the phone with my best friend (she also has bipolar & is one of the most emotionally intelligent people I know) and I have a pleasant afternoon ahead of me. Or maybe it’s just that the 1mg of Klonopin I took earlier this morning has kicked in. Or maybe writing is helping. Or maybe it’s all a very tangled web of things, maybe there isn’t one solution, maybe it requires a menagerie of actions and lifestyle modifications and trying to think in healthier ways. Maybe this is just another step in my constant state of being a work-in-progress person, maybe learning to handle this intense anxiety when it arises, learning to self-soothe, is part of what will make me more whole. Maybe this is a part of my healing process.

What are some ways, fellow folks with intense anxiety struggles, that you manage? I’d appreciate your tips, tricks, strategies or just any feedback you have on dealing with intense anxiety.

(Photographs in post from my “Bipolar Series,” taken forever ago.)

Falling Apart & Putting Myself Back Together

I fell apart this morning. I only got to see Edward for about 30 minutes yesterday, which is really not enough time to see your person in a day, and I was just feeling so utterly alone by today – the end of a long week for both him & I with a lot of time apart. He was busy at the hospital again & I couldn’t reach him by phone or text. It was a scary alone feeling, I don’t know how to describe it to you well or how to explain what made it a scary kind of loneliness instead of just garden-variety loneliness. I guess it wasn’t just loneliness – it was isolation & depression & panic & fear of the unknowns (will I always be this lonely in this marriage?). I wanted to just stay in bed with the dogs today, give up for a day, but I didn’t & I’m not.

The scary loneliness led to a panic attack. Afterwards I was exhausted from it but I got out of bed, grabbed some coffee & went outside to drink it in the sunshine for a little bit. Then I took a shower. The shower really helped.

Then Edward called! We got to talk for a little bit & he reassured me that the next rotations he’ll be doing (neurology then pyschiatry) will be easier on us both than this first one is/has been. He reassured me that he’s not annoyed with me for calling/texting him while I was having my panic attack & promised we’d have a heart-to-heart once he gets home today. Then we’ll have the whole weekend together. 

I am resilient. I can adjust to situations as they come up. I can heal. I can become more whole. I love Edward enough to deal with the loneliness his career choice often brings to me. We can do this. We are going to have a good weekend together. Just a little pep talk for myself at the end there haha.

No Choir

I have my now weekly therapy appointment in an hour & a half and I don’t really know what to tell her. I’m working on myself so much – but am I getting anywhere? I’ve started a journal of sorts, I’ve been moving my body, I’ve been doing the therapy, I’ve been keeping up with the housework, I have been creating, I’ve been listening to audiobooks meant to help me heal…

But am I rushing this process like I rush so many other things? I always want immediate results. I don’t remember if I’ve ever had much patience. I don’t understand how a person can feel so overwhelmed & so completely under stimulated at the same time. What am I even hoping for though? How/who do I want to be?

Last night, fall apart.

Two nights ago, fall apart.

Before that I think I was doing alright. I don’t remember – blame meds/my mother’s genes. I’m doing alright, right now in this moment, but what will the weather inside my mind be like in a few hours, in eight hours when Edward is still gone? Will I go back to all the dark & familiar paths?

“I don’t know if I can do this,”

or “What if it all gets harder before it becomes easier?”

or “What if it never becomes easier?”

or “What happened to us?”

or “What will become of us?”

Having a husband in medical school is no joke. I’m lonely a lot. I think of the album, High as Hope, which I’ve played an insane amount of times since it came out. I hear Florence singing, “Well the loneliness never left me, I always took it with me…”

I dance to this song a lot. I sing a lot lately, too – in the house or the car. I’m losing weight, I think, from anxiety making my appetite basically nil and all of the dancing to try to help the anxiety. It’s not intentional. I don’t know for sure because I got rid of my scale a while back. Bad thoughts, obsessive tendencies when I’d start using it again, the re-emerging of an old teenage mindset of trying to shrink because I wanted to feel small/lovable. Don’t ask me why the two seemed the same to me, it’s beyond my grasp.

Being Anxiously Attached & Learning to Breath Horizontally

I have an anxious attachment style.

This pattern within me had its blueprints set during my childhood/young adult years and I still carry it with me today – even after years with (about 1 year and 8 months of which have been marriage) a man who has a secure attachment style and who is as crazy about me as I am about him.

If you don’t know about attachment theory in adult relationships, Google it. It’s interesting. I want to learn to be more securely attached. My therapist says I am taking on too much at once right now with regards to working on myself and she’s probably right. I just feel this urgent need to heal myself, to feel whole, to stop the emotional pain I am in most of the time, to grow. I want some relief.

My therapist sent me this video today. Apparently I have been breathing the wrong way. I knew breathing consciously/focusing on the breath could help with anxiety but I learned a lot from this video. Maybe training my body to be a horizontal breathing machine instead of a vertical one will help. I’ll try anything.

What I’m Learning Lately / Dancing Is Medicine

My body holds a lot of trauma from it’s past. This has shaped my brain and the ways I think, react & feel. But I can change it, heal & move forward.

Animals are incredibly healing. I already knew this but I am learning it again.

Human connection is incredibly healing. Human contact is as important as food or water. I already knew this but I am learning it again. I am not as good at human connection as I thought I was. But I can learn to be better.

I am not as good at or brave about being vulnerable as I thought I was but I can learn to be.

I am braver in my work as an artist than in real life. I can work on both.

Not all medicine comes in a pill bottle from the pharmacy. Dancing is medicine, making art is medicine, reading or writing can be medicine, a shower can be medicine, housework can be medicine, rituals can be medicine, rest can be medicine, breathing consciously can be medicine…